How to make last-minute Christmas gifts from your garden

Alys Fowler
Photograph: Getty Images

I am tempted to say that you cannot find a better Christmas present than a small Jack Russell in a big red bow, but I am not in the business of suggesting puppies for presents. Instead, I am here with a few ideas that you can raid from your garden for a more individual, sustainable gift.

You’ve still got time to infuse the flavour of your garden into something – be it gin, vodka or vinegar. Find a pretty bottle and a nice label, and you’ve got a present that won’t go to waste. You don’t have to buy expensive alcohol – own-label brands are ideal; and I tend to use raw cider vinegar for infusing, but white wine vinegar is a good substitute. Then it’s time to get inventive with the flavours.

Use blackthorn berries to make sloe gin. Photograph: Alamy

Evergreen herbs, from rosemary and thyme to bay and sage, are all in abundance in the garden. You want to slightly bash the herbs before they go in, so they impart the fullest flavour in the week or so that they are infusing. Robust herbs can be left in the bottle, but soft material, such as basil or soft fruit, needs to be strained out or it will start to dissolve. As a rule, I never infuse sage or bay for more than two to three days; otherwise they can become overpowering.

Slightly bash herbs such as thyme (right) and rosemary before infusing. Photograph: Getty Images

A good sprig of rosemary makes for a lovely gin. You could add a twist of orange peel and a little lemon thyme; or the seeds of a whole pomegranate with rosemary is quite something. Fresh juniper berries have a truly marvellous flavour. They grow wild all over Britain – Danebury iron age hill fort is my favourite place to pocket them. Pick just a scant few, as they pack a punch and you don’t want to over harvest; add these, with a few coriander seeds and perhaps a little cinnamon bark. Lemon or lime rind will lift any of these herb flavours – you tend to only need a twist or two of rind per bottle. If you’ve got a lemon tree you could try bashing the leaves before adding them; the flavour they produce is more subtle, but equally delicious.

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If you have frozen berries saved from the summer – currants, raspberries, jostaberries or gooseberries – try infusing these in gin, vodka or vinegar. They don’t give quite the same colour as fresh soft fruit, but the flavour is on a par. Also, infusing chilies, or a pinch of lovage seed or handful of leaves, in vodka makes a distinct bloody mary for Christmas morning. Don’t leave the chilies in for more than three days though, or else you’ll blow your head off.